- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- He targeted special teams, a good place to start after the Washington Redskins’ latest loss. Darrel Young, his voice going a mile a minute and full of fire, stopped with this unit, blaming them for the loss. He could have continued on to other aspects of the team. And nobody would have stopped him. When you’re 1-4 and you had designs on contending for a division title and perhaps the Super Bowl, there’s no simple reason you lost. Again. There’s no simple way to turn it around.
Play better? Of course.
The problem is there’s no one spot that’s consistently failing the Redskins. It’s all of them. The offense can’t generate points in the first half, constantly putting the team in a deficit. They’ve trailed at the half in each game. The defense struggled for the first three games, yet they did their job in Sunday’s 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And there is the special teams. The woeful special teams.
“Every phase they kicked our butts [on special teams],” Young said.
“That was the worst special-teams performance since I’ve been here,” Redskins special-teamer Niles Paul, in his third season, said. “We were outplayed in every phase of special teams. Just a meltdown.”
But this isn’t just about the special teams. It’s about a team that can’t find its way, one year after it ended as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. If Robert Griffin III hadn’t gotten hurt in that Seattle loss. It seems so long ago. And it seems like more than an offseason between then and now. It feels like a lifetime.
“It’s definitely an awkward feeling,” Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said of their start.
Chances are, their fans are feeling something other than awkward.
It’s also tough to see it getting back anytime soon to that pre-Seattle-injury point, when they felt with a healthy Griffin they could have gone on a long run. It’s not just the 1-4 record; it’s the way they've gotten to this spot. Just overall sloppy play. Before the game, one Redskins team official said they just needed to go out and play well. That way, even if they had lost, they could see something upon which they could build.
What do they build off of this game? The defensive performance was solid, limiting Dallas to one legitimate scoring drive (the first one of the game). But they could not stop the Cowboys in the red zone. Yes, it was a better showing than the defense had in the first three games. Heck, they held receiver Dez Bryant to 36 yards and harassed quarterback Tony Romo into a 72.9 passer rating. They held Dallas to 213 total yards. You look at those numbers and you think one thing: Washington won.
Instead, the Redskins lost by 15. Goodness.
An offense that seemingly took a step forward against Oakland before the bye week regressed Sunday night. They couldn’t stop a Dallas pass rush despite the Cowboys losing end DeMarcus Ware. They couldn’t convert in the red zone. They turned the ball over twice, once inside their own 5-yard line. One step forward; two back. Griffin looked more spry; it didn’t matter.
“We’re close on offense,” Griffin said. “But close doesn’t do it in this league.”
No, it does not. Sure, the Redskins show signs of life at moments. But they’re not playing winning football. Sometimes that’s a tough term to define, but not when you watch this team. Too many penalties. Too many missed tackles. Too many breakdowns.
“I feel every week we’re getting better,” running back Alfred Morris said. “I’ll stand by that. But at the same time it seems like we get better in one area and we take a step back in another area. You can’t do that and win games.”
They’re not good enough to overcome 12 penalties for 104 yards, as they had Sunday night. If you’re good and you commit that many penalties you’re considered aggressive, and perhaps that undisciplined style is part of your charm. When you commit that many and you’re 1-4? They question your discipline and coaching and say you don’t do the little things well. It’s all true.
When you’re playing like the Redskins are now, you have an illegal-motion penalty on a fourth down, wiping out a punt that left Dallas at its own 16-yard line. So you kick again. And the returner, Dwayne Harris, takes it 86 yards for a touchdown -- and you lose one of your top special-teams players along the way in Bryan Kehl, who hurt his knee on the play.
“We found the enemy,” Young said. “It’s us. It sucks. At the end of the day it’s unfortunate, but we have to move on from it.”
That’s all they can do. The question is, how do you fix this? The Redskins need to prove they can play well for an entire game. That, not the number of games, is the answer. If they don’t start doing that, they can play 20 games and still keep finding ways to lose. It's good for the Redskins that the defense is playing well; it'll have to play even better.
Not that they’re counting themselves out. They won’t do that, nor should they.
“I don’t feel like a team that can’t rebound,” Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I don’t feel like a team that is out of it. I definitely don’t feel like that. We’re going to go back to work. All the losses hurt. They should hurt.”
If they don’t turn it around soon, they’ll start to hurt even more. An entire season would then come crashing down.